Gripe Sites: Monetizing Your Pain?

Category: Shopping

When consumers have a complaint about a company, they often resort to the power of public opinion for support. But the Internet makes it possible to do much more than simply tell all your friends about a ripoff or poor customer service you've experienced. Online 'gripe sites' and complaint forums abound, but some may do as much harm as good. They may even be designed to malign. Here's my analysis and advice...

Should You Post on a Gripe Site?

Do-it-yourself types use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to air their grievances, hoping that their tales will go viral and bring pressure on companies to do “the right thing,” meaning whatever the aggrieved parties want them to do. Any many web-savvy companies do monitor these sites for any mention of their names.

Many newspapers and TV stations have “consumer advocate” reporters who specialize in making inquiries on behalf of people who feel they’ve been ripped off or treated shabbily. But news outlets receive more requests for help than they have story slots to fill. Some people don’t have enough of the right kind of social media contacts. Still others have grievances that nobody else seems to care about. That’s where online consumer grievance services – a.k.a. “gripe sites” – find a profitable market. doesn’t seem to care if complaints are polite or genuine. It makes money by selling reputation protection to businesses. Scambook has quite a few negative online reviews, and their business model seems to go something like this:

Gripe Sites'

SCAMBOOK: “Hello, we have received a complaint about your company.”
COMPANY: “Put me in touch with the customer and I’ll try to resolve it.”
SCAMBOOK: “Give us money and we will.”
COMPANY: “No, thanks.”
SCAMBOOK: “Then we’ll just leave the complaint on our site and tell the world it’s there.”

Yelp, which hosts both positive and negative reviews of companies, is widely accused of a similar extortion scheme. Hundreds of business owners say that good reviews disappear, bad reviews rise to the top of their Yelp pages, and Yelp salesmen call to say they can make all those problems go away for the price of a monthly ad. Those who refuse to pay say the problems quickly get worse.

It's sometimes hard to tell if these gripe sites exist for a noble purpose (to help consumers) or if they're actually in the business of monetizing other peoples' pain. bills itself as "a leading consumer advocacy and review platform by the people and for the people." The site helps consumers with an axe to grind by amplifying their complaints via Youtube and other social media channels. But gripes can fly in both directions. Often, the companies being targetted by allegedly aggrieved consumers believe that they have been falsely accused. Unfortunately, all gripe sites are prone to complaints posted by competitors pretending to be a customer. So PissedConsumer does have a process called the Legitimacy Verification Program, in which a neutral third-party will review a consumer complaint (on behalf of a business) and remove a posting if it is deemed to be without merit. But it costs between $1200-$2000 to initiate the process -- ouch. TrustPilot rates PissedConsumer as "BAD" with an 85% negative rating.

The Ripoff Report is another site which seems to have as many complaints about it, as there are complaints logged there. The site has a checkered history of lawsuits and countersuits, and some vocal critics who liken it to extortion. Ripoff Report allows anyone to post any type of complaint, and does not investigate, confirm, or corroborate the accuracy of any claims. They do allow a business to post a reponse or rebuttal, but will not remove complaints. To have false complaints removed, a VIP Arbitration option is available, with costs starting at $2000. Somehow this reminds me of the time when my Dad took us to a baseball game, and we found all four tires flat upon returning to our car, which was parked next to ... a tire repair shop.

The Better Business Bureau has been around a lot longer than the Internet, and they do allow people to post complaints about businesses, but they don't mediate disputes. They will make an effort to contact the business, and note if there was a "Good faith effort to resolve" or if the company failed to reply.

If you have a complaint about a bank, lender or other financial institution, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may be able to help. The CFPB will accept complaints about bank accounts, credit cards, credit reports, debt collection, as well as mortgages and other loans. The CFPB forwards about 25,000 complaints weekly to companies for response, and most get a response within 15 days.

Gripevine was a gripe site founded by Dave Caroll, creator of the famously effective United Airlines Breaks Guitars YouTube video. The goal was to help consumers describe their grievances and desired resolutions, then get their presentations to the real decision-makers in a company. The company failed to gain traction, and shut down within a year or so. That's probably because they tried to do the right thing, by requiring polite language from complainants, and offering businesses “a civilized environment where your company can proactively engage with your customers in public without fear of being sullied by brand-damaging profanities or obscenities.”

Which goes to show, you might be better off writing a song about your complaint and posting it on YouTube.

Don't Feed the Monster

All too often, consumers turn to these anonymous and dubious complaint outlets instead of going directly to the merchant they feel has somehow wronged them. Most merchants want to do the right thing, because it's good business to do so. Repeat customers are the life-blood of thriving companies, and businesses who are serious about satisfied customers will listen and do their best to resolve complaints fairly.

For consumers who feel powerless in conflicts with companies, gripe sites offer hope of power. To companies, gripe sites offer the threat of reputation damage. The ancient Romans said that 90% of the things we fear never happen; the same can be said of things for which we hope.

My advice might sound old-school, but here goes. If you have a problem, pick up the phone and talk to a real person. Be polite and pleasant while describing your issue. It's a proven fact that in negotiations, you'll get more by being pleasant and non-threatening. If you're emailing, calmly provide all the relevant facts, documents and photos.

Some companies have online chat facilities where you can explain your problem and get a resolution. I recently had a problem with a delivery from Amazon, and this channel proved useful. My shop light came without the chains to hang it, so I logged into my Amazon account and contacted a rep via chat. The rep suggested that I return the product for a refund, and re-order it. "That's a hassle," I said, and asked how the rep could assure me that the replacement wouldn't have the same problem. After a bit of back and forth, I was offered a $5 credit, which I accepted. I'm sure I can find a bit of chain and 2 hooks at the hardware store for less.

If the merchant is not responsive, or unfairly refusing to help with a legitimate complaint, resorting to third-party online gripe forums might make you feel better, but it probably won't do much to help you resolve the problem. Contacting your bank, or opening a Paypal dispute is more likely to get results. In cases where you suspect fraud or criminal wrongdoing, contact the police or a local office of consumer protection.

Have you posted a complaint online? Tell me about your experience by posting your comment below...

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Most recent comments on "Gripe Sites: Monetizing Your Pain?"

Posted by:

J Stuart Wells
07 Jun 2024

I filled a complaint with the Better Business Bureau after the store I bought something from refused to do anything with something I had purchased for over $600. The company which made the product contacted me directly and refunded my money. I then put a very positive response for the company. I was surprised you didn't mention the BBB as an option.

Posted by:

07 Jun 2024

I have seen a Facebook group called "Butt-hurt (fill in the city)" and it is hysterical. Someone writes their complaint and then people either agree or tell the person that they are weak little butt-hurt babies. Great entertainment and the community decides.

Posted by:

07 Jun 2024

"If you have a problem, pick up the phone and talk to a real person." Talk to a real person? Not an option with most companies these days. I have had a LOT of complaints resolved in a hurry after I posted on a company's Facebook page or on Yelp. Believe me, they do not want to get bad publicity like that. As for Amazon, yes, I have gotten promo credits for faulty merchandise or late delivery, but until they offer that to you it's like pulling teeth. They keep telling you "do not worry" while they make you wait and wait and wait. It is really hard to even get hold of anyone at Amazon because they use their robot "messaging assistant" as a gatekeeper. More and more companies have these robot "assistants." What was that you were saying about picking up the phone and talking to a real person?

Posted by:

Robert Lee
07 Jun 2024

I’d love to talk to a company representative about my problem but too often there is no easy way into email or even snail mail. Tel reps try to keep us at tier one and keep us on too long versus the problem we’re bringing to their attention.

Posted by:

Robert K
07 Jun 2024

This is to J Steward Wells

Bob did mention the BBB. Read the article again.

Posted by:

Ryan James
07 Jun 2024

I have posted both positive and negative reviews on TrustPilot. For the positive ones, I generally get a thank you from the company. Most of the negative, I have had the company write me with offers to assist with a resolution. One was, but it turned out the resolution was more complicated than I could understand, so nothing changed in my review.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2024

I will give positive reviews on Yelp or on retailers’ own sites. Some smaller businesses with whom I’ve worked ask for that, as they know that people turn to places like Yelp when trying to select.

A negative review is only a last resort for me. I most certainly will try all I can to do to work it out with the retailer first. Most reputable retailers do want to make it right, especially smaller ones. Some larger ones are also very helpful. I buy a lot from Amazon and have always had an excellent response from them if an issue arises. Same with my local Best Buy. (YMMV, but I can only give my own experience with these two large retailers.)

Also, if it a business I use regularly provides great service the vast majority of the time, but I have one bad experience with them, I’m certainly not going to jump on Yelp with a one star review. It surprises me that people do that, even writing in the review how they’ve “always” had great experiences with XYZ Co, “until this last time.” Seriously, that’s how you handle one bad exchange out of many (by your own words) great ones?

Posted by:

Minoo Engineer
10 Jun 2024

My greatest gripe and complainmt is with delivery people, couriers and post-office deliveries. They come to the door, never ring the door bell or knock. Instead they dump it at the entrance door, they call it a, "Safe drop" and sometimes take a picture of it (Parcle and the door) with no Townhouse or home number. We pay a lot of money to have it delivered to us. There should be some kind of legislation to force these companies to deliver to us. They don't even wait for 10 seconds!

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